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Predictions 101 — Week 14

Nick Saban AP

Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

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LSU sells out season tickets for 11th straight year

Les Miles

A bigger stadium capacity was likely to lead to a record number of season tickets sold, and LSU did not disappoint. The school announced Friday all season tickets for the 2014 season have been sold. In all, LSU set a school record with 74,350 season tickets being sold. It is the 11th straight season LSU has sold out its season tickets.

“We have sold every season ticket that we have to offer,” LSU associate athletic director for ticket operations Brian Broussard said in a statement released by LSU Friday afternoon. “Our season ticket demand continues to be very strong and with the additional seats in the south endzone expansion, we were able to offer more season tickets this year and our fans bought them all.”

Just last month LSU announced a new stadium capacity for Tiger Stadium, moving LSU just past Alabama in the stadium capacity pecking order. After undergoing expansion in the south endzone, the stadium capacity for Tiger Stadium has increased to 102,321. The expansion helped add roughly 6,000 more season tickets to sell to fans, according to the statement released by LSU.

The home slate for LSU is one of the least attractive home schedules but it does include a home date against Alabama in November and division games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State (both Mississippi schools have a possibility of being fun to watch this season). Other notable games against defending SEC champion Auburn, Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M will all be played on the road. LSU’s big non-conference match-up with Wisconsin will actually be played in Houston as well. Fans with tickets to LSU home games this season will also be treated to games against Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, and Kentucky in SEC play.

Also this offseason, LSU’s Tiger Stadium was voted the best stadium in college football. Who wouldn’t want to secure a season ticket to Tiger Stadium?

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Fresno State adds transfers from Texas A&M and Oregon

LeKendrick Williams, Dax Swanson

As Fresno State reported for camp for the 2014 season, the defending Mountain West Conference champions announced the additions of transfer players from Texas A&M and Oregon. Wide receiver LeKendrick Williams from Texas A&M and linebacker Tyrell Robinson from Oregon have each joined the Bulldogs

Williams will be eligible to play right away according to Fresno State, but Robinson will have to sit out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Williams is eligible to play this fall because he has already graduated from Texas A&M, allowing him to play at another FBS program in 2014. The addition of Williams helps Fresno State fill some holes on offense after losing leading receivers Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse to the NFL.

Robinson was granted a release from his scholarship from Oregon in June. A desire to find a more playing time that did not appear to be in the works at Oregon was the main reason for the transfer. Robinson’s twin brother, Tyree Robinson, remains at Oregon to contend for a starting job in the defensive backfield.

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Strong’s discipline at Texas gets powerful vote of confidence

Charlie Strong

Texas head coach Charlie Strong has been hard at work at resetting the tone for the way the Longhorns will be run. That has included removing a number of players from the roster that are not buying into Strong’s mentality or philosophies when it comes to representing the program with honor. Strong, already a coaching hire that left a number of Texas fans a bit skeptical, was given a vote of confidence from the top of the university Friday. University of Texas president Bill Powers took to a brief blog post to address his support for the way Strong has been handling the discipline in Austin.

“In recent days, criminal charges and violations of team rules have led Coach Charlie Strong to dismiss and suspend multiple students from our football team,” Power said. “These are unfortunate losses, but I fully support Coach Strong and the hard line on discipline he takes. Indeed, this trait is among the reasons he was hired.”

Strong has yet to win a single game in Austin just yet but receiving this kind of support from the top of the university has to be considered some sort of win. Then again, what else is the president to say about this topic? The school just hired Strong and players in need of a potential wake-up call are being handed just that.

“In Charlie Strong, we have the right person for the job,” Powers continued. “Young players across Texas and beyond know that when they come to UT Austin, they’ll live by Coach Strong’s rules or they won’t play football.”

As stated before right here on College Football Talk, the actions being taken by Strong now will only help the future of the program.

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Back injury sidelines Auburn starting OG Kozan for 2014

Gus Malzahn

Auburn opened camp on Friday and is already down one starting offensive lineman for the 2014 season. Head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters on Friday offensive guard Alex Kovan will miss the entire 2014 season due to a back injury suffered over the offseason.

Kovan reportedly hurt his back while lifting weights at home this offseason, and he underwent surgery on Thursday according to Auburn Undercover. The sophomore started 13 games for the Tigers last season and earned freshman All-American honors as the Tigers played their way to the SEC Championship and a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

The loss of Kovan likely means there will be some shuffling on the offensive line. Auburn Undercover suggests offensive tackle Avery Young could switch the vacant guard position after starting nine games at tackle last fall.

Malzahn also told reporters starting quarterback Nick Marshall and starting defensive back Jonathan Mincy will each miss the start for the 2014 season opener against Arkansas on August 30. Both players had been charged for possession of marijuana in the offseason. Malzahn did make a point to say Marshall will play in the opener, but there is no update on Mincy’s availability for the first game of the season.

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Marijuana is legal in Washington, but not in Mike Leach’s program

Mike Leach

The use of marijuana is legalized in the state of Washington, but Washington State head coach Mike Leach makes it clear how the use of the drug is viewed within his football program. He also says marijuana use has not been a problem for his football team.

“The marijuana rule has not been a problem for us,” Leach said in response to a question on a Reddit AMA chat. Leach went on to explain “It is illegal on our team and if we find anyone using marijuana, we will dismiss them from the team.”

Leach also shared his personal thought son the use of marijuana, whether it is legal or not.

“With all do respect to those who enjoy marijuana, I believe that it is very counter-productive to having the best focused and most productive football team that I can have,” Leach said. “Any of our players or coaches interested in it will have to do it after they finish their time here!”

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Nick Marshall will play but will not start Auburn season opener

Nick Marshall

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall will play in the first game of the season for the defending SEC champions, but he will not start the game. Head coach Gus Malzahn confirmed the playing status for his returning starter on Friday, and he put it clearly.

“Nick is still our starting quarterback,” Malzahn said, as reported by Al.com.

Auburn opened camp Friday, and Malzahn took the time with the media to set the record on how Marshall would be disciplined. Marshall was kept home from SEC Media Day events a couple of weeks ago after being cited for possession of marijuana. Malzahn also noted starting defensive back Jonathan Mincy, also charged for marijuana possession this offseason, will not start for Auburn in the season opener.

Marshall paid a fine for marijuana possession last week, allowing the police to consider the case against him closed. With the legal process in the books, it was up to Malzahn to come to a decision on what to do next. Malzahn had been holding off on deciding how to proceed with punishment for Marshall but stressed it would be figured out. As previously noted, Auburn’s drug policy did not seem to indicate any lost playing time would be enforced for this offense.

Marshall was named to the All-SEC First Team and he has been mentioned as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate for the upcoming season. Although he is not technically being suspended by Auburn, the absence of playing time does not appear to be something that will hold Auburn back for very long.

Auburn opens the 2014 season at home against SEC West foe Arkansas on August 30.

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Junior WR leaving Maryland, eligible to play in 2014

Old Dominion v Maryland

Maryland will enter the Big Ten this fall with one of the best wide receiver units in the conference. That unit will not include Nigel King, a junior who reportedly has been granted a release from his scholarship in order to pursue playing opportunities elsewhere.

“I would like to thank all of my coaches, teammates and the rest of the athletic department staff for their support during my time at the University of Maryland,” King said in a statement, according to The Baltimore Sun. “I was able to fulfill my goals of playing college football and, most importantly, earning my degree.”

King did in fact graduate from Maryland, which means he would be eligible to play right away at any other FBS school if he can find a spot on another program’s roster in time for the fall season.

King was fifth on Maryland in receiving last season with 33 receptions for 450 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. Despite his contributions last season, The Baltimore Sun reports he was projected to be buried on the depth chart behind players like Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

The Baltimore Sun credited Terrapin Times with being the first to report news of the transfer.

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Academics may cost Tulane its leading returning rusher

This is certainly no way to head into your first summer camp in a new conference.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, running back Rob Kelley might not be cleared academically and, if so, would be sidelined for the entire 2014 season.  Head coach Curtis Johnson told the Times-Picayune he’s “waiting to hear Kelley’s final summer grades,” although it doesn’t sound promising.

Last season, Kelley was second on the team with 420 yards and three touchdowns.  He also added 18 receptions (fourth on the team) for 176 yards and another touchdown.

With the departure of Orleans Darkwa for the NFL, Kelley served as the Green Wave’s leading returning rusher.  He’s also the only player on the roster this season who scored a rushing touchdown last season.

Tulane, which officially moved from Conference USA to the AAC, will open the season Aug. 28 against fellow first-year AAC member Tulsa.

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Report: Oklahoma confident in DGB’s eligibility in 2014

Dorial Green-Beckham

Oklahoma is hoping to have wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham ruled eligible to play this season, despite transferring from Missouri after playing last fall for the SEC East champions. The Sooners are banking this expectation on a waiver being approved by the NCAA. The waiver is fueled by the run-off rule, according to The Oklahoman.

The run-off rule allows a player to be ruled eligible at a new school if the player is in good academic standing and the previous school files paperwork confirming the player was not invited to return to the program. That appears to be the case for Dorial Green-Beckham, who was dismissed by Missouri this offseason.

That particular detail could change the whole outlook for the transfer and eligibility of Green-Beckham to Oklahoma, but it also puts the NCAA in a difficult position as far as public relations is concerned.

Although Green-Beckham was never charged in an alleged break-in of an apartment that reportedly involved shoving a woman down stairs, he has had his infractions of rules in the past while at Missouri that raise a caution flag. The NCAA typically allows for exemptions to be made to the typical transfer rules for players in good standing and under certain conditions for hardships. Oklahoma is looking to use these exemptions to their benefit, and the NCAA may be put in a position where it may not be able to defend against the process and grant immediate eligibility.

But should they?

UPDATE (5:53 PM ET): TCU head coach Gary Patterson chimed in with his take on this news story, via Twitter. It pretty much speaks for itself.

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Richt confirms two-game suspension for Davin Bellamy

Bellamy_Davin

As expected, an off-field incident will have on-field consequences for yet another Georgia football player.

At his press conference ahead of the start of summer camp, head coach Mark Richt confirmed that, per school policy, Davin Bellamy will be suspended for the first two games of the 2014 season.  Bellamy was arrested last weekend and charged with driving under the influence.

Such an offseason offense requires UGA student-athletes be suspended for 20 percent of their team’s regular season games the upcoming season.

A three-star member of last year’s recruiting class, Bellamy took a redshirt for his true freshman season.  He’s expected to compete for a backup job.

Bellamy was the seventh UGA player arrested this offseason, prompting athletic director Greg McGarity to publicly express his frustration with the recent spate of off-field incidents.

(Photo credit: Georgia athletics)

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Report: Pittsburgh suspends potential starting cornerback for 2014

Florida State v Pittsburgh

The Friday afternoon news dump is reserved for news just like this. Pittsburgh has suspended defensive back Titus Howard for the entire 2014 season. As of now the cause for the season-long suspension is unknown, although to make this kind of decision seems to suggest there is a serious reason behind the decision.

Jerry DiPaola was first to report via Twitter.

For now we are left to assume this will be classified as a violation of team rules.

As DiPaola made note, Howard was listed at the top of the depth chart for the Panthers heading into the summer camp before the start of the season. He played in 11 games last fall for the Panthers and started in two of them as a freshman. One of those starts came in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against MAC champion Bowling Green.

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Tee Shepard cleared, can play for Ole Miss in 2014

Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl Getty Images

The roller coaster ride that is Tee Shepard continued down the tracks Thursday, with the talented defensive back receiving some good news on the qualifying front.

Citing an Ole Miss spokesperson, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported overnight that Shepard has been cleared academically and will be a part of the Rebels football team in 2014.  Because he played at a level below the FBS in 2013, Shepard will be permitted to play this season and have three years of eligibility remaining.

Shepard had originally given a verbal commitment to rival Mississippi State before flipping to Ole Miss three days later on signing day this year.  That was merely the latest leg of what’s been an interesting journey for the player.

Notre Dame announced back in March of 2012 that Shepard was no longer enrolled at the school, two months after he enrolled as an early signee as part of the Irish’s 2012 recruiting class.  The stated reason for Shepard’s decision at the time was the desire to be back closer to his family in Fresno.

After leaving South Bend, Shepard considered transferring to Fresno State as well as USC before ultimately landing at a junior college.

Shepard, a four- or five-star player depending on the recruiting service, was rated as the No. 4 corner in the country in the Class of 2012 and the No. 11 player at any position in the state of California by Rivals.com.

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Report: Miami QB Kevin Olsen suspended for at least a game

Florida v Miami

It appears that Jake Heapsdesire to become Miami’s starting quarterback has seen the path cleared a bit.

While there has been no official confirmation from the school, Adam Kuperstein of NBC 6 in Miami is reporting that Kevin Olsen has been slapped with at least a one-game suspension.  The reason behind the suspension?  A failed drug test, Kuperstein reported.

The Palm Beach Post‘s Matt Porter wrote on Twitter that he has “heard rumblings about [an] Olsen suspension this week, but haven’t confirmed.”  Porter also notes that Olsen was suspended for Miami’s bowl game last season for undisclosed reasons.

If the most recent report is accurate, Olsen would miss at least the season opener against Louisville on Labor Day, which also serves as the ACC opener for both teams.

It would also mean that, more than likely, Heaps would be the man under center.  With Ryan Williams likely out until at least the beginning of October at the earliest with a torn ACL, Heaps and Olsen were expected to commence a battle in summer camp to replace Stephen Morris.

If Olsen’s status were in doubt, it could also bring a pair of true freshman — Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier — into the mix, at least for a temporary backup job and perhaps a starting job if Heaps, a Kansas transfer, struggles the way he has throughout his career.  Kaaya is the most touted of the two, a four-star member of UM’s 2014 recruiting class rated as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the country.

Rosier was a three-star member of The U’s most recent class, rated as the No. 20 dual-threat quarterback.

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Starter among three defensive players suspended by Tide

Alabama v Auburn

We noted earlier that Jacob Coker took to the field for the first time Friday as an Alabama football player.

Three of his new defensive teammates, however, didn’t join him.

At his summer camp kick-off press conference, head coach Nick Saban confirmed that three players — defensive linemen Brandon Ivory and Jarran Reed and linebacker Tim Williams — have been indefinitely suspended from the football program. The reason given, of course, was the standard violation of unspecified team rules.

Reed’ suspension, though, can be traced to a recent off-field incident. In mid-July, Reed was arrested and charged with drunk-driving after he was witnessed backing into another vehicle.

A short time later it was reported that Reed and running back Kenyan Drake, arrested last month as well on an obstruction charge, had been suspended; Drake practiced Friday, which means he’s served his suspension to Saban’s satisfaction.

The most notable of the announced suspensions was Ivory’s. Last season, the now-fifth-year senior started 12 games for the Tide and will be expected to fill a similar role when he returns.

As for when that might be, al.com wrote that Saban said, alluding to all three, that they “can work themselves back onto the team but did not provide a timetable.”

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Jacob Coker takes field for first time as Tide QB

Florida State v Wake Forest Getty Images

Ever since Jacob Coker officially transferred from Florida State to Alabama, it was assumed he would take over for AJ McCarron as the Tide’s starting quarterback.

Friday, that assumption was put to its first official test.

This morning, the Tide took to the practice field for the first time as Summer Camp 2014 commenced.  One of the players with the most eyeballs on him was, of course, Coker.

Al.com has some video footage of the new QB on the block playing a serious game of long toss with some receivers that you can view by clicking HERE.

Coker was joined on the practice field by Blake Sims and Cooper Bateman, the other two pieces to what’s expected to be a three-man competition.  None of the three has ever started a game at the collegiate level; because Coker, ahem, nearly beat out Jameis Winston for FSU’s starting job prior to the 2013 season, he’s viewed as the favorite.

Sims has spent last season as McCarron’s primary backup, with that familiarity leading some to believe he would have the edge.  However, with new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin installing his scheme, any advantage for Sims on that front is largely negated.

So, just who will end up starting for the Tide?  Allow Nick Saban to answer that question.

“We’re looking for the guy — success is defined by consistency in performance, alright,” the head coach said back in March. “So who can be the most consistent guy doing his job well at that position? Alright, now that’s a critical position because that guy distributes the ball to someone on every down, whether he hands it to them, throws it to them. The choices and decisions that they have to make goes a long way in how effective and efficient your offense runs.”

In other words, keep track of who makes the fewest mistakes in the weeks leading up to the opener, because that’s the one who’ll take the field first against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome.

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